SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is Republican Lamar Smith of Texas. A long-time opponent of illegal immigration, Smith is in a quite powerful political position -- he can basically block or let advance any immigration-related proposed law in the House.
He's also got a certain megaphone on the immigration issue, and he has not been shy to use it to blast at every possible turn the Obama administration's immigration policies.
His latest missive is accusing the Department of Homeland Security of "cooking the books" in terms of publicizing "inflated" deportation statistics to make the department and the administration seem as if they're tough on immigration, deporting record counts of illegal immigrants -- particularly those with criminal records.
But Smith said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the agency within DHS responsible for detaining and deporting illegal immigrants, is actually using a program whereby immigrants are transported to another border state from where they were arrested for deportation -- the objective being trying to dissuade them from coming back across where they first tried to enter the U.S. illegally.
The program is also known as "lateral repatriation" and often involved shuttling those arrested in Arizona over to spots along the Texas-Mexico border. The official name is Alien Transfer Exit Program -- but ICE does not list it on its Web site.
Smith argued that immigrants in this program should not be counted in the overall deportation statistics. For example, doing so for this year would reduce the overall deportation count from 334,000 to 263,000, Smith said.
Other recent years would also see a significant decrease, he noted. What's more, he insisted, there's an additional discrepancy in ICE figures between those arrested and those actually deported. For example, ICE lists 334,000 arrested so far this year -- yet only shows 221,656 actually arrested.
The agency has not yet commented on Smith's charges.
Given his already long track record of setting up hearings meant to probe the administration's immigration policies, I wouldn't be surprised if Smith soon calls for one to examine the deportation discrepancy issue.